Friday, March 28, 2014

Thoughts on BookExpo America and BookCon

So, yesterday I read this article in PW about Reed Exhibitions' plans for the new BookCon on the last day of BookExpo America (BEA). I posted an off-hand comment on Twitter and Facebook that I thought the new plan was great. Apparently, my comments weren't clear, and some people are confused and upset by the new plan. "Why is excluding the public a good thing?" I was asked, and that wasn't what I meant at all, and I don't think it's what BEA intended. In fact rather the opposite. BEA is working to include the public and craft a positive experience for them. Since it's difficult to clarify my thoughts in 140 characters, I thought I'd write a blog post.

First, some history: BookExpo America is the largest U.S. conference for the book industry. It started in 1901 as the American Booksellers Association convention, and eventually grew to encompass much more. But it has always been a conference exclusively for the book industry. To attend, you had to be a bookseller, librarian, publisher, publishing service provider, or someone else working in the industry. Attending wasn't cheap, either. Badges can run several hundred dollars, depending on your role. That wasn't intended to be exclusionary. It was always a conference oriented around the business side of books.

However, since books and authors are a big part of the conference, I think increasingly so in recent years, BEA recognizes that it would also be of interest to passionate book lovers, and in turn, those are people whom publishers exhibiting at BEA would like to reach. So for the last year or two, they've been experimenting with opening the conference to the public.

Last year, that took the form of "Power Reader" day, which provided tickets giving power readers access to the show floor on the last day. I think that Power Reader Day both was and wasn't a success. I think the idea was great, and some publishers took advantage of the opportunity to interact with readers and have special events and giveaways just for the public. For the readers, it provided a chance to meet authors and get autographed books, as well as a peek behind the curtain to see books in advance of publication.

However, the problem was that the BEA show floor is very large, and many exhibitors are not of interest to the public, nor are they interested in interacting with the public. So I saw many power readers wandering around booths with remainders dealers, printers, distributors, app developers, book display manufacturers, and publishing service providers of various types. In addition, some publishers publish books not intended for a general audience, and even some of the ones that do publish general interest books didn't seem interested in interacting with the public. Many exhibitors break down early on the last day, and walking the floor and hearing the tape guns, some starting as early as 11-12:00, I couldn't help but think that if I were a Power Reader, I would have been disappointed to see what looked like a conference winding down, on the only day I could be there.

Thankfully, Reed Exhibitions also recognized this problem, and they made some changes to address it. This year, if I understand correctly, a part of the BEA show floor will be sectioned off as the area for BookCon (replacing Power Readers) attendees. Exhibitors are given a choice whether they want to be in the BookCon area or not. The ones that choose not to be in this area are ones that wouldn't be offering anything to the public anyway: the business to business service providers, the specialized publishers, and those general trade publishers who, for whatever reason, aren't interested in taking part.

So if you attended Power Reader day last year and are worried about the changes, you won't be losing anything! (Disclaimer: I'm not associated with BEA in any way, other than as an attendee for the last 10 years, so I'm just going by what I read in the press and on their website). You'll still have access to a feast of books and authors; it's just that it will all be consolidated into one area, so that you don't have to hunt through aisles and aisles of irrelevant (to you) booths to find the things that interest you.

I think that what's confusing people is on the ticket page it says, "BookCon Tickets do not provide access to BookExpo America (BEA). BEA is a trade only event (not open to the public) and BookCon Tickets do not provide entry into BEA." What I think this means - and again, this is just me interpreting - is that you don't have access to the first two days of BEA, which Power Readers didn't have last year, either, and you don't have access to the area of BEA which is primarily for business to business exhibitors (which most of the public wouldn't be interested in anyway).

This BookCon FAQ addresses a lot of the questions and concerns.

If you haven't attended before and you're within an easy drive of New York City, this is a great opportunity to find out about new books, meet authors, and maybe pick up some freebies. Tickets to the one day BookCon event are only $30 for adults (and teens, apparently) and $5 for children. Ticket information is here.




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